Talking with their doctors may help convince reluctant Americans to get COVID-19 vaccines, evidence from a previous pandemic suggests.
Researchers analyzed responses from more than 19,000 people in the United States who were surveyed during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009.
The poll assessed respondents' attitudes toward doctors, their openness to discussing vaccines with their physician, their willingness to get vaccinations, and whether or not they got the H1N1 vaccine.
The results showed that being willing to talk to doctors about the issue was associated with increased trust and receipt of the vaccination, according to the study published online recently in the journal Health Communications.
Previous research has shown that doctors can change negative attitudes toward vaccinations in general, but this study specifically focused on that role during a pandemic.
"A vaccine during a pandemic is definitely different from others, like the flu vaccine, which people already know about," said study author Porismita Borah. She's an associate professor in Washington State University's College of Communication, in Pullman, Wash.
"During a pandemic, it is a new vaccine for everybody. People may have more hesitancy and may be more worried about side effects," Borah said in a university news release. "The doctor's office is one of the best sources of information for patients who have questions."
Many doctors feel it's not ethical for them to tell patients to take a certain vaccine, the researchers noted.
Instead, doctors can simply act as a resource by answering patients' questions to help them make better informed decisions, the study authors suggested.
And they don't need to wait for patients to approach them.
"Doctors could voluntarily reach out to patients, even by email, to let them know what the COVID-19 vaccine means," Borah said. "They can answer questions like how was the vaccine made? What should patients expect? Why are there two doses? I think there might be many questions people have which can be easily answered by primary care physicians who are usually well trusted by the general public."
Doctor communication with patients is especially crucial now, given that one in five Americans have indicated an unwillingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine and the large amount of misinformation around the pandemic, Borah noted.
"People have to be really careful about what they're seeing and what they're reading because there is so much misinformation circulating on social media," Borah said. "Sometimes this misinformation is circulated by friends and family members without any sort of bad intention -- they just share it, so it's extremely important to get information from trusted sources."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 vaccines.
SOURCE: Washington State University, news release, March 15, 2021